The Pop Culture Lens is co-hosted by PWSA contributors CarrieLynn Reinhard and Christopher Olson. The podcast looks as past pop culture texts using different theoretical lens to discuss the text and its relevance. The podcast tries to translate academic concepts and theories into language everyone can understand and appreciate.
Two men enter the ring — the “squared circle” — muscles tense, skin already glistening with sweat. They circle the ring, calling out to their fans in the crowd to let their admiration roar and shake the building. The room still reverberates with the booming baselines of their entrance music, leaving the audiences’ ears to ring for the next day or so. The crowd responds in a frenzy, engaging in dueling chants and trying to outshout the other side as their wrestlers finally step into the middle of the ring to meet.
They size each other up, stare one another down, and give the sense that they do not like one another. Even if they show the sign of respect and shake hands, everything leading up to that handshake and following it is thick with tension and the desire and the drive to overcome the other and win. They may be friends outside of the ring — and that friendship may be completely legit and not just kayfabe (i.e. performance) — but it doesn’t matter. Each man enters the ring to win.
Thus began every single match at the AAW Windy City Classic XI.
This was my first live event. As I have discussed elsewhere on this blog, I am new to this whole professional wrestling phenomenon. In terms of time, I have only been interested in professional wrestling for two years. The 2015 Windy City Classic XI was my first live show experience.
Professional wrestling has been criticized for its emphasis on the fiction of its entertainment rather than the reality of its sport. My partner, Christopher Olson (Seems Obvious to Me), and I argue that professional wrestling functions as a convergent media product, representing a vital text for examining the media landscape of the 21st century.
The true nature of professional wrestling is in how it combines fiction with reality; it exists at the intersection of different identities, realities and conventions, which can seem oppositional to one another. When examined through the convergence of different identities, realities, and conventions, the true dialectical nature of professional wrestling emerges. Professional wrestling succeeds because of its ability to converge these different factors into a coherent post-modern and polysemic text with which an international polyvalent audience can identify and engage. This post will deconstruct this nature of professional wrestling by considering the various factors that are converging to construct the texts, practices and experiences of sports entertainment.
As part of the project on understanding professional wrestling through the theoretical lens of convergence (i.e. convergent wrestling), I recently wrote out an explanation for how Christopher Olson (Seems Obvious to Me) and I see this concept of convergence being able to describe various aspects of professional wrestling.
Now, being that we are academics, one way we advance our scholarship and our knowledge is by attending and presenting at academic conferences. In order to test out this idea of “convergent wrestling,” we organized two panels that would bring together different researchers whose work on professional wrestling could be considered as using this theoretical lens. We presented the first such panel at the 2015 Central States Communication Association conference. At this panel, I presented this argument for seeing professional wrestling as an example of various convergences, as presented earlier on this blog. Along with my introduction to the idea, several researchers presented their analyses of the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), its fans, and its business practices. With their permission, here are these presentations.
This blog post expands on the ideas of the co-construction of kayfabe, an idea I presented at the Popular Culture Association 2016 conference in Seattle. For this post, I reflect on a live wrestling event I attended in an attempt to define what my partner, Christopher Olson, and I mean by “convergent wrestling.”
The entire presentation can be heard on Soundcloud, but I will sum up the idea here to address a recent experience with a live wrestling event: AAW‘s “Take No Prisoners” on May 6th, 2016.
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It takes a community to build a wrestling promotion.
We have been going to AAW shows now for over a year. We have been to see them in the various venues they use in Chicago — Logan Square Auditorium, 115 Bourbon Street, the Berwyn Eagles Club, and Joe’s Live at Rosemont. We have watched some video clips of matches that go back throughout the 13 year history of the promotion.
What amazes me is how often I see the same faces across these different venues and spanning that stretch of time.
As part of my ongoing series reflecting on my time with professional wrestling, seeing the loyalty and dedication of some AAW fans got me thinking about the role of community in this promotion. With any fandom, community is immensely important. One of the reasons people self-identify as fans is because they want to bond with like-minded individuals over the passions that they have. Seeing your passion reflected back by another helps to validate your passion and worldview. And knowing that you share the same passion helps you to geek out or squee (pick your term) over just how worthy that this is to geek out or squee over.
In this brief essay, I want to share an idea I have had about how the concept of audience interaction helps to define sports entertainment as existing at the intersection of sports and entertainment. Audience interaction with content (what I have written about here as content interactivity) is the idea that the audience member (either individually or as an aggregate) can in some way engage with the text to the extent that they can influence the progression of the text’s content.
A video game like The Legend of Zelda, for example, responds to the individual’s decisions and actions to determine how the game unfolds for the player. A call-in contest reality show like American Idol responds to the aggregate of the masses voting for who succeeds and who doesn’t. If we look at professional wrestling from this perspective of audience interactivity, then I think we can notice something happening that helps define what it is while also demonstrating a convergence of identities as the lines between audience and producer blur.